5 May, Thursday night was clearly a tortuous evening for Liberal Democrats across the country: our support sapped away in many parts of Scotland to the SNP, as well experiencing defeat in Wales; hundreds of hard-working, decent local councillors lost their seats up and down the length of England; and an invaluable, once-in-a-generation opportunity to finally scrap the discredited First-Past-the-Post system was firmly rejected by the nation.
Nonetheless, Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats were pleased to see that our city faired much better than other parts of the UK, and that – in spite of the necessary challenges posed by deficit reduction, as well as the compromises of Coalition – thousands of us chose to reaffirm the area’s great Liberal tradition. It was heartening to see excellent councillors in the student wards – like Julie Smith of Newnham, Philip Tucker of Castle, and Andrea Reiner of Market – retain their seats, so that they might continue to serve the city and universities well. I am sure that the successful defence of these wards was at least in part because people knew that our local Lib Dem MP, Dr. Julian Huppert, voted against a rise in tuition fees, and that the party being in government has secured a fairer deal for students and graduates. I am sure, too, that the electorate were well aware of the commendable work our councillors have done in the city, such as fighting the Tory County Council cuts to bus services, or that – in contrast to the Conservatives and Labour – no Lib Dem council in the country has decided to close down a SureStart centre.
CSLD were also pleased to note that Cambridge voted clearly to change the electoral system, and adopt AV. Lib Dems have persistently made the case that First-Past-the-Post is not fit for purpose, and CSLD has been at the forefront of the campaign for fairer votes for many months now. And even though the referendum result is a bitter disappointment, that should not diminish the great constitutional reforms Lib Dems in Government have already achieved: fixed-term parliaments, equal-sized constituencies, more power given to Commons backbenchers. With the right to recall corrupt MPs and an elected House of Lords also in the works, it is clear that Nick Clegg and the rest of the party are doing all they can to improve this nation’s democracy.
Thousands of Cambridge residents and students backed the Liberal Democrats this week, recognising our achievements in Government, in spite of the considerable difficulties we face, and appreciating the invaluable role we play on the streets of the city, as well as in restraining the Tory menace in Whitehall – not least, in forcing the Conservatives to seriously amend their reforms to the NHS. We will not let the people down.
Jamie Scott, Jesus College, CSLD Campaigns Director